Short Course Blitz: North Bay Area

I spent another very busy three days in Northern California last week. In total, I ended up playing 11 new courses. It was an interesting mix this time as four of them were private clubs, one was a normal public 18 and six were 9-hole short courses. Obviously, I have a lot of reviews and pictures to share over the next couple weeks, so we’re going to start with one of two Short Course Blitzes from this trip!

Mill Valley Golf Course • Mill Valley, CA • 6/19/19

This was my first stop on Wednesday after driving up in the morning. I arrived a little before 10:00 and the course was pretty much wide open. I paid a little extra for a cart to get around as quickly as I could, so it ended up being $28 total for nine holes. Despite this being a very hilly course, it appears most people choose to walk it. The cart paths are very loosely defined and the routing is very tangled and confusing, so it was tricky getting around efficiently without knowing the layout at all. Thank goodness there was a course map on the scorecard!

Most of the courses I played on this trip have long histories and Mill Valley is no exception with its roots dating all the way back to 1919. It is a 9-hole course that plays to a total par of 32 (five par-4s and four par-3s) on the first nine and par-33 if you play a second nine. I realized after the fact that there were different tees on the 3rd/12th holes. I actually played the par-4 12th hole version on my one trip through the course. For the ladies, it is a par-34 on both sides. It definitely has the feel of an older course the way it is laid out and how quirky it is. I imagine erosion throughout the years has made some of the sloped fairways and greens even more treacherous.

Mill Valley was by far the most interesting and scenic short course I played on this trip. That said, the funky design and the weird routing will be the things I remember most about this place. As a fade (slice) hitter, some of these tee shots were very awkward. Holes 1 and 4 are uphill par-4s with fairways that slope hard to the right, so you really have to aim to the high side if you don’t want to roll all the way down.

As for the routing, the most crazy part of this course is the section where you will find the 2nd and 8th greens side-by-side next to a ditch/creek. In between them, but actually kind of tucked back on a hillside behind both greens, is the 6th tee, which has you hitting the opposite way over the creek. It’s not the most comfortable set-up. I had some kids putting on the 2nd green while I was teeing off on 6, and we had to wait for one another so I didn’t have to hit right over their heads. I would not want to be playing any of these holes on a really busy day because it seems like a dangerous spot on the course. The 3rd and 9th course along with all the connecting cart paths are right there, too, so you really want to pay attention.

The course was just in okay condition. Some of the tee boxes are astroturf and I think it’s the kind designed to allow you to put a tee in, but I could never get it in very deep. Most times I just hit off the deck unless I was using a driver. The aforementioned 6th tee box had a rubber tee in it that worked fine for a driver. The other grass tee boxes were a bit chewed up, but adequate.

The fairways were mostly decent with a mix of grasses. The rough was a bit more rough and inconsistent, but it is helpful there is some deeper grass here because many fairways slope hard to one side or the other. It was actually nice to have something to stop the ball from rolling too far down a hill. However, it could be hard to find amongst some weeds and little white flowers. The bunkers had okay sand, but were not that well maintained. One maintenance worker seemed to be cleaning them up, though. The greens were soft and very slow, shaggy and bumpy.

The old quirky layout and simplistic clubhouse area offer some local charm at Mill Valley, and the setting is definitely beautiful. It is tucked deep into a secluded little valley full of redwoods and plenty of lush greenery. I’m sure a lot of people have a soft spot for this place, even if aspects of it are a little silly.

Some pictures from Mill Valley Golf Course (6/19/19):

(Click on any picture below to pull up a gallery slideshow.)

Some friends and I had a 1:00 tee time at Marin Country Club and I was hoping to play this next course before that round as well. It didn’t quite work out as planned, but it still worked out…

McInnis Park Golf Center • San Rafael, CA • 6/19/19

I arrived here around 11:00 after zipping around Mill Valley so quickly. Unfortunately, I could see that the course was packed. It was kind of surprising on a Wednesday, but trying to play it then was cutting my time way too tight. I just headed to Marin, in hopes we might get out a little early there and leave me more time afterward to go back to McInnis Park. With this being the week of the summer solstice, daylight was really not a concern during the longest days of the year in Northern California.

One of my friends ended up joining me after we finished at Marin. They slotted us in at a 5:18 tee time and it was still very busy out here. This course is ideally placed not far off the 101 Freeway about halfway up the brutal Marin corridor that can get really backed up during evening rush hour traffic. I’m sure a lot of people choose to get out of traffic and head over to McInnis to hit the range or play nine holes. Their bar/restaurant also seems to be a very popular meeting place, as well.

It was $13 to walk nine holes and I also paid a few bucks extra to rent a pull cart and save my back during what we expected to be a fairly slow round. They do have power carts for rent here, too. We were joined by another single and the play was fairly slow behind other groups. Ultimately, we finished in about an hour and a half.

McInnis Park is a simple par-31 layout by Fred Bliss with four short par-4s and a mix of par-3s that range from 92 to 204 yards. Most of the course is pretty flat and has some semi-links qualities. The last few holes are the most interesting part as you go up on a little hillside plateau to finish out the round before walking back down the hill toward the range/clubhouse. Otherwise, it’s a pretty straightforward and mostly uninteresting layout.

The course conditions were decent here. The tee boxes were adequate. The fairways on the par-4s were okay. The rough was mostly fine. There were lots of soft spots throughout because they definitely water this place generously. The bunkers seemed okay. I think I was only in one and it was pretty good. The greens overall were pretty good—medium speeds and mostly rolling pretty well.

The convenient location and the driving range/restaurant facilities are the highlights of McInnis Park, which is just one part of a larger public park complex with sports fields and other activities. I’m sure they do great business here. It doesn’t matter if the course is good, bad or mediocre. It will always get a lot of play from the local crowd.

Some pictures from McInnis Park Golf Center (6/19/19):

For my last stop on this first Short Course Blitz, I will jump ahead a couple days to Friday morning. Thursday found us taking a major detour to a different part of NorCal, as you will see in later reviews. Friday found some of us back in the Napa Valley and East Bay, which afforded me the opportunity to check this next course off the list early that morning…

Vintner’s Golf Club • Yountville, CA • 6/19/19

I was hoping to have one more course (Mount St. Helena a bit further north in Calistoga) as part of this blitz, but I got denied there Thursday evening because they have surprisingly short summer hours. I learned they close at 6:00 despite it being light until about 9:00 this time of year. Oh well, I’ll get back there eventually because I still have a handful of 9-holers left up that way.

Vintner’s was the bigger priority, so I made time to play it Friday morning before our 9:00 tee time over at Napa Valley Country Club. Vintner’s technically doesn’t open until 7:00, but the pro shop guy said he usually opens up much earlier in the summer because it gets light out so early.

I arrived around 5:45 and waited around a little while for any signs of life. Eventually, I did talk to some maintenance workers and they said it was fine for me to walk around and pay afterward. That’s what I did. I paid my $28 walking rate after I finished my nine holes and the timing worked out great.

Vintner’s is another par-34 layout which kind of puts it in that gray area between regulation and executive. I consider it executive length because if you double up and play 18 holes, it’s only a par-68 total. That said, this course felt more legit in terms of length compared to the two above. These are pretty standard hole distances you’d find on any normal regulation course. There just happens to be three par-3s and only one par-5.

If this course did have a full 18-holes and was maintained a bit better, it would get more attention than it does because it’s a solid layout in a nice Napa Valley setting. The design from Casey O’Callaghan won’t blow you away and doesn’t measure up to some of the area’s other memorable courses (Silverado, Chardonnay and Eagle Vines all come to mind).

The conditions at Vintner’s were just okay, as well. I think there was a little rain the night before and they were also watering heavily that early in the morning, so it was very wet out. There was plenty of lush green grass (and weeds), but it just had kind of scruffy feel. The bunkers were nice and the greens were good, as well. They were very soft and some hadn’t been mowed yet as I went through, but they rolled good enough.

Vintner’s will probably appeal to the more casual golfer or groups on a wine tasting trip than it will to the serious golfer who will prefer some of the Napa Valley’s more distinctive courses that I mentioned earlier. Still, it’s pretty good for a 9-holer.

Some pictures from Vintner’s Golf Club (6/21/19):

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